By Beth Poliquin
We paddlers know that one of the special things about water is that it’s never the same. One can be on a body of water innumerable times with vastly different experiences. Contributing factors include weather, season, company, time of day and even one’s own mental or physical condition. On the other hand, another special thing about paddling is that it opens up worlds of possibilities for exploring. So how do you decide where to go next?
I live in a county with over 860 lakes, but there’s one that gets most of the attention: Lake Superior. And believe me, she deserves it. I’ve lived close to an ocean most of my life and it draws me. Big water is powerful, mysterious, and awe-inspiring. Some days this powerful inland sea is like glass, disguised as a welcoming lake. It can fool less-experienced paddlers into not being intimidated. However, this lake usually has surface temps in the thirties and conditions can change drastically without warning, making it a dangerous place for most recreational paddlers.
An honest assessment of your own skills, equipment, and clothing is crucial to making a good decision on where to paddle. Capsizing in cold water takes your breath away immediately and your motor skills shortly thereafter. It is important to dress for submersion. When water is less than 60 degrees, that means a wetsuit or a drysuit. Shorter boats are great on small lakes or on moving water, but aren’t ideal on larger bodies of water, especially with an open deck or large, open cockpit. And you should feel confident that you can self-rescue or at least swim to shore if you find yourself in the water. To maintain these skills, practice them while recreating and consider taking a paddling and safety course. Coast Guard regulations require you to have an approved Personal Floatation Device (PFD) on your boat, but if you go in cold water, you need to already be wearing your properly fitting PFD.
Getting involved in a local paddling community is a great way to get the most out of your aquatic adventures. Friends can make a day on the water safer and more fun. They can also recommend places you have not yet experienced. Often, you can find expert advice and helpful maps at a local paddle sports shop. Phone apps can lead to the discovery of public access points. You might be amazed to find many more options around you than you previously thought.